Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For Lent 1

The first crisis of human stewardship came with our first ancestors’ decision to test the sovereignty of God by consuming the only fruit in the garden reserved exclusively to the Creator. Rejecting stewardship and embracing the illusory promise of sovereign possession of the garden, they initiate a continuing pattern of exploitation, entitlement, violence and destruction that plagues human participation in the life of the earth.”               
                           Anglican Church of Canada – Resources for Mission

Several weeks ago, Jesus informed us that we have to choose the master we will serve – God or wealth. On Ash Wednesday, we heard his words, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Today we read about the “first crisis in human stewardship” in the garden, and then about the resolution of that crisis – indeed, the redeeming of human stewardship – in Jesus’ wilderness encounter with the adversary.

In that encounter, Jesus overturns contemporary (in his time and in ours) wisdom about stuff, status, and power. He makes choices that affirm that his primary relationship is not with any of these, but with God as God’s steward. In fact, he refuses to express ownership or possession of any one of them. The stones are not “his” stones to refashion for his own purposes. Status as God’s son is not “his” status, an entitlement he can claim in support of his own emerging leadership agenda. And the power to govern the world is not power that can become “his” power if he does as the Adversary asks. Power is a gift from God for God’s purposes of compassion, healing, justice and mercy. What the Adversary offers Jesus is the misdirection of that gift into purposes of fear, domination, and threat. Jesus models human stewardship – grateful recognition that endowment and purpose flow from the same source – from the one he calls abba – “Papa”.

Jesus recognizes that human relationships – with the creation, with other persons and communities, and with power – will always be a matter of stewardship. In Bob Dylan’s words, “it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Jesus’ encounter with the Adversary brings into sharp focus what is already apparent in the garden. The Adversary may frame our decision in terms of freedom or slavery, but the real question is not “Whether?” but “For whom?” we will be stewards. Both God and the Adversary govern a kingdom; the elemental stewardship question is which of them we will serve.

The forty days of fasting that lead to this encounter follow immediately on the heels of Jesus’ baptism, his inauguration into a renewal movement led by his cousin, John the Baptist. They are a consequence of his audacious claim to be a steward of the kingdom of heaven. It is God’s own spirit who dispatches him to the wilderness, where that audacious claim will be put to the test.

Where is our stewardship tested? Where are we tempted by the Adversary’s promise of absolute freedom and unrestricted title to whatever stuff, status, or power we can lay our hands on? It’s not, on the surface, a very friendly question, but it’s one we need to ask. Because it is not Jesus’ Papa who intends us harm, who invites us away from practices of stewardship grounded in compassion, justice, love and mercy. It is not Jesus’ Papa who seduces us, with illusions of freedom, into a stewardship grounded in “a continuing pattern of exploitation, entitlement, violence and destruction.”  And if we learn in Lent and Holy Week that the journey a Kingdom-of-God steward makes through this life is not an easy one, at Easter we will discover again what we had perhaps forgotten – that it is the only way home.

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